A Worm Enzyme Might Help Rid World of Some Thrown-Away Plastic

henderson_island--plastic

Henderson Island beach. Photo: Jennifer Lavers, University of Tasmania

It is widely believed that is possible to rid ourselves of plastic items we no longer want by throwing them away. A study of Henderson Island, a 14.4 sq mile (37.3 sq km) spit of land in the Pitcairn Islands, which are far from anywhere else in the far reaches of the South Pacific, has demonstrated with frightening certainty that, as an old saying has it, “there’s no such place as away.”

Virtually every available surface, and too many buried ones to count on Henderson Island, are covered with bits of plastic, much of it from China, significant amounts also from Japan and Chile, according to scientists from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, and the Centre for Conservation Science, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, in the UK. Some 37 million pieces in all have made Henderson Island one of if not the largest homes globally for parted-with plastic.

The scientists’ report, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States, said the plastics debris density on Henderson Island is higher than anywhere else on earth. While its accumulated 37 million pieces of discarded plastic is but a drop in the proverbial bucket of the 5 trillion plastic pieces – some 250,000 tons worth – littering the world. And its presence in this once pristine piece of property makes a mockery of the island’s status as a UNESCO-designated “World Heritage” site, as “one of the few atolls in the world whose ecology has been practically untouched by a human presence.”

That declaration was made as recently as 1988 – a mere 29 years ago.

Not only is the accumulated plastic an eyesore to those rare souls who approach close enough to uninhabitable Henderson to see it, it’s a real risk to wildlife on and near the island. As the plastic drifts closer to Henderson, which sits amidst what’s called the South Pacific’s ocean gyre, an enormous area comprising one of half a dozen major circulating areas for ocean currents, water from vast areas on either side of the Pacific contribute trash as well as water from diverse sources. (That’s why Henderson’s plastic comes from so far afield.) Sea creatures ingest or get tangled in plastic materials, which either kill them quickly or slowly choke the life out of them. Land animals, too, often become victims of plastic materials eaten because they smelled or appeared edible.

These problems are destined to become more widespread unless mankind, collectively, takes steps to reduce the creation and use of plastic materials.

That and finding, in the guts of a certain species of wax worms, the enzyme that enables it to “eat” plastic:That such an enzyme exists stems from findings of a part-time Spanish beekeeper, a day-job researcher who found that the worms, whose caterpillar parents like to munch on beeswax inside his hives, were able to eat their way out a plastic bag he’d put some in.

plastic-eating worm

A hole eaten through a plastic bag by a wax worm. (Photo: Federica Bertocchini, Paolo Bombelli, and Chris Howe

Great scientific answers, and solutions, have been launched from less auspicious starts than that! Who knows? In time a wax worm enzyme could, if replicated on a large enough scale, take a bite out of the world’s plastic waste problem. But don’t hold your breath: That kind of advance isn’t likely to happen with this, or even the next, decade or three.


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What’s Swimming In The Pool YOU Use?

swimming pool

A little known fact: 19% of American adults have admitted to peeing at least once in a swimming pool. The share of children doing so is undoubtedly much higher than that.

If you’re wondering, ‘and this is important to know for what reason?’ the reason is simple: Though urine is sterile, it contains various chemicals – urea, ammonia, amino acids and creatinine among them – that can react with such pool sterilizers as chlorine to form volatile disinfectant byproducts (DBPs) that can lead to eye and respiratory irritation and even a form of asthma.

How much pee might there be in a pool? A team of scientists at Canada’s University of Alberta (the Division of Analytical and Environmental Toxicology, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry) found some in 100% of the sizab le sampling of pools and hot tubs they studied last year, with a 110,000 gallon (416, 395 l) pool containing 7.9 gallons (26.5 l) of urine and a 220.000 gallon pool (832,790 l) included close to 20 gallons (75 l) of liquid human waste.

It’s hard to avoid ‘absorbing’ some pool water when you find it streaming down your face when you emerge from beneath it. Even if you don’t swallow, but blow it out, you could be taking in some urine, albeit diluted. But that’s what the pool water samples were in the tests done by the Canadian researchers.

That tinkle of pee you may have absorbed on a single pool visit is hardly like to hurt you. But if you are a regular pool user, this is a fact to keep in mind: That person next to you – yes, that one – just did a bladder dump, and the splasher on the far side of that person is pushing “it”| toward you.

 

Fore! Is That a Golf Ball in My Hash Browns?

mcCain Hash Browwns

Foods get recalled for an assortment of (sometimes odd) reasons – but because they may contain pieces of golf balls? CNN reported Sunday that McCains announced a recall over the weekend of several brands of hash brown potatoes because, as the company put it, “they may contain extraneous golf ball materials” – from balls (or pieces thereof) grabbed along with the spuds during the harvesting process.

It’s not uncommon for farm land to be re-purposed for other uses, but it says something – what, we’re not sure! – when a golf course’s greens are replaced by fields of brown potatoes. If, in fact, that’s what happened in this instance. Or perhaps someone was randomly firing golf balls into a potato field.

A statement on the FDA website says: “McCain Foods USA, Inc. announced today it is voluntarily recalling retail, frozen hash brown products that may be contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials, that despite our stringent supply standards may have been inadvertently harvested with potatoes used to make this product. Consumption of these products may pose a choking hazard or other physical injury to the mouth.

The impacted products include the following: Roundy’s Brand, 2 lb. Bag of Frozen Southern Style Hash Browns (UPC 001115055019) and Harris Teeter Brand, 2 lb. Bag of Frozen Southern Style Hash Browns (UPC 007203649020).

The Roundy’s products were distributed at Marianos, Metro Market, and Pick ‘n Save supermarkets in the states of Illinois and Wisconsin. The Harris Teeter products were distributed in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia and Maryland. Distribution occurred after the date of January 19, 2017. No other products under the respective brands are impacted by this recall.

The products being recalled were manufactured on January 19, 2017. The production code date is B170119 and can be found on the back of the packaging. Any product with a different production code date is not impacted by this recall.

Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

There have been no reported injuries associated with the consumption of this product.”

Uber A Marriage-Wrecker? French Court Will Decide

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A French businessman who was cheating on his wife – or so she suspects, and thinks she can prove – learned about his straying ways after he borrowed her iPhone to schedule an Uber. When he hung up, the app didn’t, and continued sending reports on his whereabouts to his wife’s phone. As a result, the French paper/website Le Figaro, reported recently, she filed for divorce.

Rightly enough, the allegedly cheating husband believes, Uber should pay what he’s suing the company for: $45 million. (How, in such a case, such a number is decided upon, is a mystery!)

His claim is that the app, “not the whole cheating thing,” as The Daily Dot put it, ) led to the wife’s divorce appeal.

Le Figaro was able to duplicate the “problem” on iPhones – and no such “fault” has been found to affect Android phones, news that no doubt comes as a relief to owners (or borrowers) of phone using that operation system.

Uber hardly surprisingly, would no doubt be laughing at the lawsuit, which it has no intention of settling. But fighting lawsuits is expensive, and a distraction from business-as-usual.

(What was I saying?)

The Daily Dot said the case will have an initial court hearing late this month, with the French government – meaning taxpayers who support the government – picking up their side of the tab. The husband will be responsible for his share of the costs.

 

Baby Saved by Toss to Shore when Car Veers into River

baby-toss

A family’s car was accidentally driven into a river near a pier in China and, as the vehicle was sinking, a father desperate to save a baby, tossed it through the air, over a rocky shoreline to a stranger who caught and saved the infant.

The UK’s Mirror reported that, “The panicked dad, who had been standing on the car bonnet, fell forward with the force of the throw and ended up in the water himself.” But he and other family members were saved when workers on the pier threw them life preservers. No was one was seriously hurt in the incident, which happened neaar Changde City, where the family had been visiting relatives for Chinese New Year celebrations.

Authorities later towed the car from the river.

Man Steals $4.8m from Boss, Puts $1m of it Into in-app Buys

game-of-war

After embezzling some $4.8 million from his employer over the course of seven years, a California man who then had more money than he knew what to do with squandered $1 million on in-apps buys – purchases tied to the playing Game of War, a mobile strategy game for Apple devices. It’s likely that, after he’s sentenced in May, 2017, Kevin Lee Co will have an ample amount of prison time to regret his actions. He was convicted earlier this year on charges of wire fraud and money laundering, according to the BBC.
Mr. Co had worked for a distributor of Caterpillar equipment for two years when, in early 2008, after being named head of the accounting department, he devised a scheme to skim the money from the company’s accounts. His account grew progressively richer until March, 2015, when his fleecing was discovered.
Aside from his Game of War in-app buys, Co reportedly spent heavily on luxury cars, plastic surgery and season tickets for two San Francisco-based sports teams.

‘Probably bet on them, as well!

Shady Practice Sees ERs, Docs Billing Patients Separately

emergency-room

It’s hard to decide which is worse: The fact that this problem exists, or the fact that Congress seems disinclined to fix it.

The problem, as reported on by The New York Times, is being billed after an emergency room visit by the doctor(s) who treated you because, while the visit itself was covered by your major medical insurance, the service of the doctor(s) was not. Why? Because they aren’t employed by the ER, but work there as contractors not recognized by your health care plan.

I ran into an odd variation on that theme some years ago when I went to a certain hospital in White Plains NY for an x-ray – only to be billed, a few weeks later, for the reading of the x-rays, apparently because the x-ray reader was a contractor not recognized by my health care coverage company. (This actually happened on more than one occasion.)

Arguing the absurdity of that situation, because an x-ray is useless unless it is read, I simply refused to pay the bill. ‘Never heard from them again! And rightly so.

My point to the hospital and the x-ray reader was, ‘This is between you; Don’t try to drag me into your territorial dispute or whatever it is. With those ‘others,’ I didn’t play well at all, at least not by their rules.

Health-care billing in the U.S. has become ludicrously complicated, with patients being, for the most part, totally unable to comprehend why they are being billed X for Y service. Consequently, I have developed a not-altogether-fair, very cavalier attitude to the original ‘overage’ bills I receive and all the subsequent follow-up bills from the provider organization and, eventually, one, another or a series of bill collectors: I ignore them.

I assume, at this point, one of three things to be the truth: [1] I’m an exception to the rule, and most people simply pay up – or the system could have collapsed by now (as I’ve been ignoring bills for years!); or [2] the bill collecting system truly is broken, and uncompensated hospitals and and doctors are living on borrowed time; or [3] somewhere in the collection system someone came to the realization that I was either unfairly billed – not a likely possibility, from the biller’s perspective – or mine was a bad debt that needed to be written off.

I consider [3], particular the second possibility under it, to represent the least likely scenario of those I’ve listed. The most likely scenario, I fear, is that the collections system truly is broken. But the billing system is, too, with people being charged outrageous sums for the likes of a couple of aspirins, the equivalent of a consumer level ‘Band-Aid’, or a charge for a television one was too ill to watch.

The likelihood that the latter supposition is correct is pointed to, indirectly, in the Times article, which noted that when the subject patient went to one of those billing him and asked for a reduction in the bill, it was halved! Clearly, it was unnecessarily high in the first place.

But now (not a moment too soon, I imagine you’re thinking), on to the second concern: That Congress seems to be totally disinclined to address an issue that, for complicated reasons, is best dealt with at the national level, as opposed to local ones.

Lloyd Doggett, a Democratic Congressman from Texas, last year introduced a bill that would require hospitals and doctors working in them to be ‘related,’ for billing purposes. (As you’d suspect, the legislative proposal is far more complex than that!) But as The Times put it, “he experienced a ‘healthy dose of indifference’ from his colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee” – the elite group responsible for seeing that money-related bills do, or don’t, move forward to the Congress as a whole.

Doggett plans to reintroduce the bill, but he’ll be doing so into a climate probably more, not less, likely to move the issue along – thanks to party and representative shifts created by the just-past (but hardly forgotten!) elections.

As has been noted elsewhere – a lot of elsewheres – lately, members of the American Congress are great at paying lip-service to serving the public, the people who elect them, but the members of that august body tend to vote where the money is. And on issues such as this one and most others, there are few lobbyists for John Q. Public, but a whole lot (with gobs of money) speaking out in favor of the status quo, or, at the least, again any idea that might upset it.

The patient cited in The Times article was seen by a doctor who “gave him some medication and tests, and let him go.” Shortly thereafter, the guy was billed for $1,620. And that, of course, doesn’t have anything do with what the ER billed and was paid.

The guy’s appeal to the doctor’s private practice, the group that had billed him, was successful, but only to a point:

They knocked half off the bill,” he told the paper. “Which is great. It’s like, would you rather get punched four times or two times? I guess two times is better.

But hardly better than being treated fairly in the first place!